Ulysses S. Grant: Politician

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

Chapter XII Tarnished Halo

JAMES SCHOULER, visiting Army Headquarters while Grant was still general, has recorded that he gazed upon the hero of the Civil War with a mingled sense of awe, gratitude, and admiration. But, sighed the historian, "Often as I saw him, during the eight eventful years of his Presidency which followed later, that feeling of affectionate reverence towards him on this earliest occasion failed of renewal. Perhaps the military undress suit which he wore when I then saw him . . . enhanced the atmosphere of distinction. . . . Somehow Grant the General, as first beheld in military dress, appeared to me quite a different person from Grant the President, rigged out at a ball in white tie and black suit, or when seen standing alone in early dusk at the White House gate, with glossy top hat, smoking a fragrant cigar."1 Like the youthful Schouler, many of Grant's contemporaries and later historians have found a marked difference between Grant the General and Grant the President. Deceived by his change of clothing, such commentators have failed to perceive that Grant followed the same course of development and displayed the same tactics in politics as in war. It was the field which changed, and not the man. Proceeding with tenacity, quick decision, and spasmodic outbursts of superhuman energy, Grant had followed the method of trial and error to ultimate military success. In the field of politics, he utilized these methods to gain political power, however much his tenacity and decisiveness might have obscured the process. In his political career there was much of trial and error, and there were battles which were as disastrous and as costly as Belmont, Cold Harbor, and The Wilderness.

Nowhere is this continuity better illustrated than in the selection of the lieutenants whom Grant drew around him. In the army, his subordinates had been practical men, schooled in warfare and willing to give full coöperation. Sherman, and Sheridan, and Thomas, whose ability and loyalty had been tested, Grant drew to his support, while spurning impractical theorists and political generals like McClernand and Butler. So in politics, he selected men schooled in political warfare--Conkling,

____________________
1
James Schouler, History of the United States, VII, 144-146.

-190-

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